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Chemical Mating Signals (Image 1)

June 23, 2010
Chemical Mating Signals (Image 1) To study the chemical signals involved in copepod (a type of zooplankton) mating, Georgia Institute of Technology professor Jeannette Yen and her students use several techniques to visualize and track the transparent or semi-transparent animals in the lab. Pictured here is a setup called Schlieren optical paths, a complex maze of mirrors and lasers that enhances the difference in the refractive light index to pinpoint the animals' 3 Dimensional coordinates through time. Yen is studying the mating patterns of zooplankton--short-lived organisms that range in size from several microns to a few centimeters. Zooplankton live in oceans and almost all other aquatic habitats, traveling with the flow of water. Although they are abundant, the probability of finding a mate for the millimeter-sized copepod (one of several types of zooplankton Yen is studying) is low because they are widely dispersed in a huge ocean, often living in a dark environment where vision is limited, and they lack image-forming eyes. To make up for their visual impairment, copepods and other zooplankton communicate with potential mates by chemical signals. To attract a mate, females emit chemical compounds called pheromones that are slowly dispersed by molecular diffusion, not by the flow of the water. (Date of Image: 2003) [Image 1 of 3 related images. See Image 2.]